Yukoners with long COVID-19 are struggling. Now, some want the government to take action

·4 min read
Whitehorse resident Mark Rutledge has been living with long COVID-19 symptoms for over six months. He says he simply can't get the health care he needs and he's now asking the Yukon Government to offer more support for people like him. (Submitted by Mark Rutledge - image credit)
Whitehorse resident Mark Rutledge has been living with long COVID-19 symptoms for over six months. He says he simply can't get the health care he needs and he's now asking the Yukon Government to offer more support for people like him. (Submitted by Mark Rutledge - image credit)

When Mark Rutledge first contracted COVID-19 in June 2021, his symptoms were very mild.

He had received his second dose of the vaccine a few months earlier, and he assumed he would soon be back to health.

But a few weeks after recovering from the virus, Rutledge started experiencing unusual symptoms.

"The cough came back and the cough never went away," said Rutledge. "But what really is extraordinary for me is the chronic pain that I feel in my extremities, my hands and my feet. It's day and night, all the time."

Rutledge also started experiencing hot and cold flashes and tremors.

He's part of a growing number of people who are struggling with post-COVID-19 symptoms. There have been over 200 symptoms attributed to long COVID-19, but according to Health Canada, some common symptoms include fatigue, memory problems, shortness of breath and general pain.

Struggles to get proper medical care

The consequences of these symptoms can be devastating for people's health, social lives and finances.

That's certainly been the case for Rutledge.

"[The pain] gets so bad that you lose sleep," said Rutledge. "Mental wellness becomes a huge factor. You know, you're tired all the time. You lose focus."

The symptoms often prevent him from working and he frequently has to take unpaid leave.

Submitted by Susie Goulding
Submitted by Susie Goulding

But perhaps one of the biggest hurdles he faces is trying to get adequate medical care. He says he's simply unable to get the help he needs from the health system in Yukon.

"The difficult part is trying to get doctors and medical professionals to hear the stories and experiences that we're going through, but also believe us," said Rutledge.

Rutledge says his family doctor brushed off many of his concerns at first and was at a loss of how to help him. Rutledge's physiotherapist eventually referred him to a neurologist.

But Rutledge won't be able to see one any time soon.

"You're looking at a two year waiting list to see a professional and they're not going to be in Whitehorse; they're going to be in B.C. or Alberta," said Rutledge.

Susie Goulding, who also has long COVID-19 and is the founder of COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, says it can be especially hard for northerners to get treatment for long COVID-19 symptoms.

"There are so many doctors, especially in rural communities, that have no idea that there is such a thing as long COVID," she said.

"And if they do by chance know something about a long-COVID, they don't know how to recognize it. They don't have any information. I think that there's really an urgency in getting management support out to the northern communities."

Call for government support

CBC
CBC

Rutledge, for his part, is calling on the government to 'take off their blinders' and start helping those struggling with long COVID-19.

"If you've got chronic illness and pain that is so debilitating that you can't work, there needs to be support," said Rutledge.

"You know I wish that our government – not just federally, but also territorially – would do more to support those with long haul COVID … and come up with a game plan. Because right now, I think we're just reactionary and not looking in a proactive manner to help those with long-haul COVID."

The Yukon government hasn't shared any plans to support those with long COVID yet.

When asked about how the Yukon government will help those with long COVID-19 get proper medical care, Premier Sandy Silver didn't provide any details but instead said "our healthcare system in the North here is extraordinary."

It's hard to say how many people are suffering with long COVID in the territory because the government hasn't been tracking the cases. However, a September report from a science advisory group in Ontario found that post-COVID-19 symptoms affect about 10 per cent of those infected.

Dr. Catherine Elliott, Yukon's acting chief medical officer of health, said the government is "working to develop the systems" to gather data on long COVID.

In the meantime, Rutledge wants the government to recognize that long COVID symptoms are happening, and could be here to stay.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting